Nō Ōrākau: Past and People in James Cowan’s Places
In tracing the interconnections of place and people in James Cowan's writing, this article argues that his widely-disseminated body of work complicates current orthodoxies and warrants more consideration in the study of settlement than it has had to date. Analyses of newspaper features and short non-fiction narratives, and of book chapters which centre on the prototype for Cowan’s cultural landscapes, Ōrākau, provide the basis for an argument that even in an era when the picturesque appeared to have wrought a division between scenic and inhabited landscapes, Cowan’s writing refused that distinction. The landscapes he wrote were peopled, valued for their beauty but given meaning by the traditions and the histories attached to them. I argue here that a consideration of Cowan as “nō Ōrākau”—haunted by a place to whose long historical resonances he responded over the work of a lifetime—introduces a more nuanced account of a settler imaginary which can allow not only of subjects who were “seeing men” seeking to possess what they surveyed, but also of those who lived in a complex and discomforted relationship to the indigenous past of place.
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